Oxford University Press)

The book predominantly deals with Kingsley’s early life in Rhodesia (including meeting Cecil Rhodes), then covers an early trip to England, back to Umtali in Rhodesia, and then eventually on to Oxford University in England where he strove to realise his dream. Here are some excerpts:

 From Chapter 19:

… When you close your eyes on a hot day you may see things that have remained half hidden at the back of your brain. That day I saw a street in the east end of London . It was a street crowded with children – dirty children, yet lovable, exhausted with the heat. No decent air, not enough food. The waste of it all! Children’s lives wasting while the Empire cried aloud for men. There were workhouses full, orphanages full – and no farmers.

“Farmers – children, farmers – children …” and the words ran in my head as I pushed my bicycle along the dusty road.

And then I saw it quote clearly: Train the children to be farmers! Not in England . Teach them the farming in the land where they will farm …

 Chapter 23: (The final chapter) “An End And A Beginning” (Repeated in full)

I began to write on Child Emigration – it seemed to me the best way to make the matter known. In parenthesis let me explain here that when I use the word “I” in connection with the scheme I mean “we”; for she who is now my wife went every step of the way with me, when she was not traveling a steeper way than mine.

It was Frank Day who solved the problem for me.

“Speak” he said, “don’t write.”

He was enthusiastic about it, seeing the advantage, as an emigrant, of the child over the man; and he had hopes that Canada would take the matter up.

My friend Alec Johnston was interested, too. Both Day and Johnston were pillars of strength to me in those days.


Kingsley Fairbridge

Things were looking very bright when I received a set-back in the form of a letter from the British South Africa Company, saying that they considered Rhodesia too young a country in which to start Child Emigration; they could not therefore entertain any idea of furthering the scheme. I had always imagined the first Farm School on the Rhodesian high-veld, the country which I knew and loved. Since, however, they would not give me the land – which was all I asked for – I determined to leave Rhodesia alone for the present and to apply to the High Commissioner for Canada , and to the Agents-General for the Australian and other states.

The following August I went with my regiment to Salisbury Plain. What a grand time we had on the old Plain! There, in a small tent, was held the first meeting – informal, I admit – on the subject of Child Emigration. It was my friend Rudall’s doing. He suggested that I should, the following term, give an address on Child Emigration at the Colonial Club. He got together in his tent McDonnell, the President of the Club, and seven or eight other men, and we held our meeting. In the end McDonnell promised to give me the first speech-night of the coming term – i.e. 19 October 1909, and every man present promised not only to come but to be a foundation member of a society for actually settling the work afoot.

I went back to East Grinstead rejoicing, to meet my old friend James Morrell. I was next day to see Sir Edward Morris, Premier of Newfoundland, and was exercised in my mind as to how much land I should ask for him. I consulted James.

“Shall I say five thousand acres?”

“Fifty Thousand”, said James, “always ask for ten times more than you want.”

So when I saw the Premier of Newfoundland I asked for him for fifty thousand acres with a river or sea-board frontage.

“Very good,” said Sir Edward, “you shall have it – the best of the land that is open for settlement. And, see here, we’ll pay you a bonus on every acre of land you clear, and we’ll give you a grant that will cover the salary of a couple of teachers.”

Fate has willed it that the first farm-school has been started in Western Australia . But if God pleases we shall one day take up Sir Edward’s offer. My heart has always turned towards that dim island and ancient colony.

With Sir Edward’s promise to life my courage high, I set to work to prepare my speech for the Colonial Club. The thought of it sometimes terrifies me; I remember sitting whole days in my little room in an agony of apprehension. How should I make them see?

I was not afraid of the ordeal of facing a crowd. But I was afraid that my speech would not sound right: that it might leave the Club uninterested: that it might serve only as a check to Child Emigration.

Day was gone to Canada , but A.G. Cameron and I had long talks about the scheme.

Time passed swiftly, and it seemed but a moment before the night of the speech arrived. Cameron and I, both very silent, dined together and walked round to the Japanese Café in the High, where the Club’s meetings were held.

I expected an audience of about twenty, for this number constituted a fairly good turn out of Rhodes Scholars and other Colonials at the ‘Varsity – for the Colonials on the whole have no clique, but blend in with the Public School men and other units of their own Colleges. But this evening they turned up in force. Fifty men were present before the President called order. The benches and chairs were all filled. In there amongst the smoke and chatter were men from every part of the Empire – opposite to me was a Count from the Channel Islands, on my left was a little man with a powerful, thoughtful face – a Canadian professor. I saw the iron jaw of Cameron of Prince Edward Island; the thin dark face of a Queenslander; an ingenuous gaze of a South African Rugby Blue; the bull-necked sturdiness of New Zealand ; the wide open, untroubled eyes of a Newfoundlander. These fifty men were animated by no common shibboleth, no predetermined party feeling, no single interest that would tend to make them all think alike. Each man thought and hoped separately. My appeal would indeed have to be a deep one and a wide it if were to stir all these various hearts. I was to plead my case before an Imperial Parliament where every member was wholly and Independent.

Suddenly there fell a brief silence, and I heard my name spoken.

I was on my feet, telling them all of the thing that had brought me to Oxford. It was not a simple thing to explain, and it was still more difficult to endow it with life.

I told them that I believed that imperial unity was not a phrase or an artificial thing. Great Britain and Greater Britain are and must be one. Each is in a position to confer untold benefits upon the other; interdependence is therefore their only possible relation.

The colonies have, above all things. A superfluity of land for the landless men of Britain ; Britain has a superfluity of men for the manless land. But whereas the land is good land, the men Britain can spare least are not always good men. The best emigrant farmers have been the aristocracy of English yeomen, such as England can ill afford to lose. The colonies should take something England does not need, if both sides are to profit; something nevertheless that will be an asset to the colony.


Mr Fairbridge

Now there are in England over sixty thousand “dependent’ children – children, orphans or homeless, who are being brought up in institutions , who will be put into small jobs at the age of twelve or fourteen, jobs for which they become too old at eighteen. They have no parents, and no one standing in any such relation to them. What have they before them that can be called a future?

Here and now, I said, let us found a society to take as many as we can of these children overseas, to train them in our own colonies for colonial farm-life. We want “schools of agriculture” in every part of the Empire where good land is lying empty for lack of men. This will not be charity, it will be imperial investment. There will be no pauper strain attached to out farm-schools; every child will be worth far more than the price of his training to the colony he will eventually help to build.

Our chief care, I said, must be to entrust the training of these children only to men and women truly and fully able to undertake it; there is no such wasteful economy as cheap schoolmastering. There must be no such mistake over our farm-schools. Farming is in itself a wonderful educator; moreover, there is a homeliness about farm-life which makes it the antithesis of existence in an institution. I told them that the Premier of Newfoundland had already promised us fifty thousand acres of good land. Finally, I asked them to join in a work which should be for the good of England and the Empire.

I sat down amid what seemed to be intense silence. Throughout the whole speech no one had made a sound. No chair was shuffled, no one coughed. The only sound that came to me was the dull echo of footsteps, motor-horns, and voices out in the High. I was a little perplexed. Then it gradually dawned upon me that the speech had been successful. I looked round at the men’s faces, and saw their eyes fixed upon me. The President, a Canadian, was leaning forward with his elbows on the table.

Half a dozen men rose to ask questions. They were pertinent questions touching heredity, legality, finance; they were put bluntly and searchingly, as if the questioners wished to know. I answered each in turn, easily and fluently, for my heart was uplifted. The hope of twelve years was burning in my brain. I saw the farm-schools as they would be – as they had been a thousand times in my dreams. In the seasons of boisterous health, in the long times when I tossed in the wasting grip of malaria, I had pictured the farm-schools of to-morrow. Now was come the eve of to-morrow. To-morrow I should see them with my living eyes. The past lay in my left hand, the future in my right; I was too fully armed to heed the present.

Yet the present was slowly forcing itself upon me. I heard Cameron proposing, and Dr Waddy seconding, then we fifty men should declare ourselves the Society for the Furtherance of Child Emigration to the Colonies. I was instructed to “carry on”, to collect money, to find the way. We each undertook to pay five shillings to the “Fund”. A paper was passed around the room; we signed, and the paper was given to me.

At a late hour we disbanded, and I wandered back to Exeter College hardly knowing where I was. According to the custom, I kicked on the old gate that is braced and riveted with iron, and Hookham (entering my name for a “late-fine”) let me in. I wandered into the main quad, feeling strangely lost, and then on to my staircase and my room.

The Way”, I thought, “that is it. I am still to find the Way. But we are on it. We – that’s it – fifty of us now … My Child Emigration thought has spoken – it is become part of the world.”


Kingsley Fairbridge with his grandmother – 1903

My dingy room, with its photographs and scattered books – how it seemed to have changed! I wandered idly about the room. I became aware that I was dog-tired; my legs ached. One gives of one’s best; and it is gone. One has come a little nearer to the dust, whither we all go. Virtue has passed out from me; how little might remain I did not know.

I though a good sleep would restore me. I heard myself saying “Now I will go to sleep”. Then I counted up to an incredible number. I counted innumerable sheep; I made my mind a complete blank – all to no good. So I set revolving in my mind scheme after scheme – all bearing upon the theme; how to find the way, how to find the money.

With every new hour pealed the bells. One would begin, a little prematurely, perhaps, for Oxford time is not strictly accurate; then another bell would join in; then two or three bells together; then a whole crash of them, gradually ceasing and dying down to silence. Before I left Oxford I came to know the sound of every bell.

It is very quiet at night between the hours of one and five. And in those quiet hours before the dawn come thronging back all the wise things one might have said and all the great things one might have done. Griefs that daylight never knows knock against one’s heart, and it needs more than a little valour to meet them. Faults of one’s childhood came back too – small deceptions, mistakes that covered one with an agony of shame. One wonders if they are quite forgotten. Just before dawn is the hour of regret. It is said that many people die just before dawn; it would be kinder if they could die sooner.

Lying awake, so, I came to have dreams of the Empire made perfect – through her sons. Many of us dream so at night; then with day it seems that a reaction sets in, a kind of madness seizes the whole world, and hate and jealousy and vanity set us all shouting and squabbling again.

During that October night – the night of the founding of the Child Emigration Society – all these things crowded into my head. Through the bells came at times the surge of the hill wind sweeping through Chitaka’s kraal, or the sound of the big game crushing the dead leaves of the low-veld. Sometimes I saw my father standing on the hot road near Christmas Pass , sometimes I saw him stooping over my cot to sing to me. But always my mind came back to the problem before me – how to find the way and the money.

After a long while the grey dawn-light stole gradually round the buttresses of the overshadowing chapel, and in through the dusty diamond pines. The day was come. How often I have lain awake to watch it. For the gods are not always kind to seekers of new ways.